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Zombie Apocalypse Hits El Barrio in Indie Film Shoot

By Gustavo Solis | October 16, 2015 10:47am | Updated on October 18, 2015 4:09pm
 A film crew turned 103rd Street into the heart of the zombie apocalypse over the weekend.
Zombies in East Harlem
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EAST HARLEM — East 103rd Street was overrun by zombies over last weekend. 

By noon, a hoard of about 20 undead feasted on tacos from El Paso Taqueria before chasing a woman out from a building between Park and Lexington avenues. The zombies were extras and the woman was the lead actress in a movie being filmed in El Barrio.

"I didn't want it to be the normal New York film-making crew," said Xavier Santiago, East Harlem resident and producer of Simbi Zombies, a movie about a brother and sister who tries to save the world from the undead by forming a band.

The movie, which has also been filmed in Queens, Brooklyn and Long Island always patronizes local businesses and works with residents whenever they can. On Sunday, a couple of the zombie extras were curious residents of 103rd Street.

“I want people to feel involved," said Santiago, who is also a Community Board 11 member. "The biggest thing for me it was nice to give back to the community.”

Although it's not a regular occurrence, film crews have been going to that part of East Harlem for decades, residents said. 

When Mario Soto was 10 years old, he looked out his window on 104th Street and saw an actor flip bad guys over his shoulder and burn them to a crisp with a flamethrower.

It was 1980 and a film crew was shooting "The Exterminator," an action flick about Vietnam vet turned vigilante hell-bent on cleaning up the gritty streets of New York City.

“When they were done the director took all of the kids out for ice cream,” said Soto, now 45.

He was pleased to see the crew from Simbi Zombies embracing the neighborhood and using local businesses for catering.

"It's great," he said. "Anything that puts money back into the neighborhood is a good thing."

About four years ago, Oscar Vera, the super of one of the buildings used to film Simbi Zombies, said a Hollywood crew filming a scene with the late Robin Williams took over 103rd Street.

He said he didn't know what movie it was, but crews used massive trailers, floodlights that turned night into day, and machines that controlled the weather.

“They had these big rain machines turned on Robin Williams,” Vera said. “Afterwards I got to shake [Williams'] hand.”

Sunday's shoot was not for a big budget flick. With a production budget of less than $40,000, it is what the producer called a real community and grassroots effort.

Santiago teamed up with director Dae Hoon Kim, who helped create the Korean American Film Festival New York.

The shoot showed the film’s female lead escape a heard of zombies as she ran out of a building, got in a car, and drove off to Long Island.

“The shoot went really, really well,” Santiago said. “It was a real community event which was really nice.”

Regardless of what the movie is about, residents of 103rd Street loved showing off their block.

“It makes us proud to have people keep coming back,” Vera said.